It was quite the preseason performance through three games for Pittsburgh Steelers rookie first-round quarterback Kenny Pickett.
Seeing a lot of snaps with the second and third string, Pickett carved up the competition when on the field, completing 29-of-36 passes for 261 yards, three touchdowns, zero interceptions and a sparkling 80% completion percentage. He also led a game-winning drive in his NFL debut against the Seattle Seahawks, and had a dazzling two-minute drill drive at the end of the first half against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Still, he currently sits No. 2 behind veteran Mitch Trubisky, who is expected to be the starting quarterback Week 1 on the road against the Cincinnati Bengals, even if head coach Mike Tomlin isn’t quite ready to formally announce the starter.
Based on the showing he had in the preseason, Pro Football Focus’ Sam Monson believes there’s one key takeaway from the three-game preseason for the Steelers, that being Pickett doesn’t need to sit and develop at all. Instead, Monson believes Pickett should be the guy right away, allowing him to grow and develop on the field in game-action, rather than watching from the sidelines.
“Arguably the biggest concern for Kenny Pickett’s prospects of starting early in his NFL career was the speed of his process. In college, Pickett averaged 3.2 seconds per throw, a glacially slow time that typically gets longer for young quarterbacks entering the NFL,” Monson writes for PFF Thursday. “In the preseason, Pickett showed he could speed that up significantly and still efficiently lead the offense. He averaged 2.43 seconds per throw and had an average depth of target 6.6 yards downfield. Those quick passes earned him a 124.7 passer rating and three touchdowns.
“Pickett likely won’t begin the season as the starter, but he doesn’t look like he needs time on the bench.”
Pickett’s slower throw time in college at Pittsburgh wasn’t really due to his ability to process. It was largely due to the fact he was provided so much time behind a terrific offensive line, one that returns fully intact this season for new Pitt quarterback Kedon Slovis. Pickett was afforded a lot of time last season at Pittsburgh to throw, which led to the extended snap-to-throw time.
Once with the Steelers though, that luxury disappeared. That wasn’t a problem for Pickett, who showed he can process quickly and make the right throws, doing that throughout the preseason while making a push for the starting job.
He’s an accurate quarterback, knows where he wants to go with the football pre-snap, makes quick, smart decisions and really appeared poised in the pocket for the Steelers. Sitting him on the bench, at least early in the season, behind Trubisky won’t hurt him or his development, but it’s been pretty clear since the second week of training camp that Pickett is ready to play and should see the field relatively quickly in 2022.